Was Dominic Cummings’ BBC interview a mistake?

Critics suggest Laura Kuenssberg grilling backfired for former No. 10 adviser

Dominic Cummings
(Image credit: BBC)

Dominic Cummings has escalated his war of words with Boris Johnson by using a televised interview to reveal that he plotted to oust the prime minister just weeks after their 2019 election victory.

In a BBC News Special broadcast last night, the former Downing Street adviser told Laura Kuenssberg that he and his Vote Leave allies hatched the plan after clashing with Johnson’s now-wife Carrie, who was “trying to get rid of us and appoint complete clowns to certain key jobs”.

In the end, of course, it was Cummings who was forced to leave, in November 2020. Since then he has been lobbing what the media have dubbed “Domshells” back at his former boss.

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But if he thought his first TV interview would provide the chance “to settle scores with his many enemies, the very opposite proved to be the case as viewers got the chance to stare into his soul”, writes Gordon Rayner in The Telegraph.

“The more he spoke, the more he resembled a crazed cult leader as he revealed his grandiose plans to overthrow the system” - and while he repeatedly painted the PM as a fool, “it was Mr Cummings himself who was utterly diminished by the interview”, Rayner concludes.

The Financial Times’ Robert Shrimsley agrees, tweeting yesterday that “this may be the most self destructive interview since Prince Andrew”.

“On and on it went,” says Sean O’Grady in The Independent. “Boris Johnson possesses the leadership skills of a broken shopping trolley? He’s so bad we wanted to oust him within days of the 2019 general election?”

Cummings also claimed - again - that Johnson had “no plan” for the Covid-19 pandemic, and that the PM had to be warned off meeting the Queen in the early stages of the outbreak. And as far as Johnson’s general game plan as leader goes, the “only agenda is to buy more trains, buy more buses, have more bikes and build the world’s most stupid tunnel to Ireland”, the ex-aide added.

Yet the fact is that “Cummings would still be perfectly content to be in No, 10 and trying to steer the wobbly shopping trolley if only - as he portrays it - Carrie, now Mrs Shopping Trolley, hadn’t got involved”, writes O'Grady.

In The Spectator, Charles Moore suggests that Cummings’ attacks “backfire” because he fails to recognise the “unique” job of the PM.

One of the most controversial allegations in last night’s programme was that Johnson said last October that “we can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80”. But Moore argues that “Boris was not being casual or callous: he was thinking out loud”.

The PM must “weigh up competing claims before deciding”, Moore continues, and to clarify these he may express them “luridly, in private, to his trusted advisers”.

Over in the Daily Mail, Sarah Vine wonders why her “old friend Dom” - who she says “possesses a brilliant mind” - agreed to the interview in the first place.

“The Dom of old would never have dreamt of doing a sit-down interview with the BBC, Meghan and Harry style. He would have considered it an act of spectacular idiocy,” Vine writes. “Something about the past few years, in the aftermath of Dom’s Brexit triumph and the ongoing psychodrama between him and the prime minister, seems to have changed all that.”

And yet, says Samuel Kasumu in The Times, it feels like No. 10 is now lacking a “senior political operator who has a unique antenna that is more interested in being direct about the potential trouble ahead than they are about holding on to their job”.

While conceding that it is “an unpopular thing to say”, Kasumu - a former special adviser in Theresa May’s administration - argues that “the operation may be missing” having someone like Cummings.

Maybe, says Paul Baldwin in the Daily Express, but if Mr C “is ever allowed back into the Palace of Westminster, I should send someone down to the bowels of the building to check for barrels of gunpowder”.

Ultimately, after the Barnard Castle debacle, the former advisor’s “credibility is as shot through as his career at No, 10”, Baldwin concludes. So Cummings’ latest claims contain “nothing to trouble the current incumbent of No. 10 for much longer than it takes for today's front pages to be wrapping cod and chips”.

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